Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Indian bread called "naan" - Finally posting an actual recipe!

My specialty had been Italian and French cooking for a long, long time. I expanded into the American South, Cajun, Creole, and Southwestern cuisines, as well. Now I've headed back to the other side of the world recently with my explorations into Moroccan, Indian, and Thai cooking at home. Indian has been intriguing me the most in the past month. I never tasted Indian food until I was in my mid-20's and living in Los Angeles - and, of course, I was not kosher by then so nothing was off limits. One bite and I've never looked back. To my taste buds these new flavors were the essence of what eating is about for me! It's like I was born to eat Indian food and savor all the herbs and spices.

For Shabbat dinner two Shabbatot back I made kosher Chicken Tikka (a yogurt-based marinade with traditional Indian herbs and spices, but the version I made included tomato paste). I used rice milk instead of a yogurt substitute and it tasted very similar to the non-kosher original. (I prefer rice milk over soy milk now that I know it's better for people with gluten-free diets.) For anyone who seriously knows Indian cooking I realize that I am horrifying you with my substitutions! The recipe might not have been authentic, but the taste was close to what it's meant to be and that is what I care about.

Then continuing my Indian cooking kick, last week I made a braised tofu and vegetable dinner with a korma sauce (curry and coconut milk). But anytime I serve tofu as the main protein in a meal I feel like I need a heavier carb to fill everyone up. And that is when I came across an easy and flavorful recipe for the Indian bread naan:

I highly recommend making this naan at home! We could not stop eating it and it reminded me of what is served in Indian restaurants. That's what my kosher kitchen is all about - bringing those favorite old foods with me into this new life! I didn't have to abandon anything and I love the creative challenge of re-creating the foods I adore.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Ushpizin" the Israeli Movie

Once a week my husband and I try to spend a night watching a rented movie together after our children go to bed. We eat popcorn, candy, and sometimes drink Coke. Believe it or not, it's truly for the purpose of shalom bayis, although we both enjoy watching movies (I worked in Hollywood so it makes sense, right?) We feel that one of the best gifts a parent can give a child is a secure home with a stable marriage. This is perhaps the easiest way to spend together time and further improve our marriage.

We alternate each week between watching a movie of my husband's choosing and a movie of my choosing. We broaden each other's horizons this way since I'm not a fan of what he likes and vice versa. We both come out appreciating the differences and finding something to like about the other person's movie (most of the time).

With that said, tonight was my movie choice and we watched "Ushpizin". It's an almost agonizing story of a Chassidish couple in Israel who are struggling to stay afloat financially and to finally have a child after 5 years of marriage. They appear to be deeply in love. The movie charmed me, but also tortured me to see what this couple went through to be gracious hosts to escaped convicts who showed up as uninvited guests. The underlying theme, to me at least, was the bitachon (trust) this couple had in G-d. My husband and I even had a conversation in the middle of the movie about how ridiculous the storyline was becoming. How does one draw the line between being an appropriate host and realizing that they're being taken advantage of? Then we saw the outcome of the movie and although it's a fictional movie, it was one more example to me of why I became a religious Jew. Anything I have ever asked Hashem for that was practical and would help me grow as a person has been given to me. He is there and He is listening.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Embracing My Wrinkles, Despite How Hard That Is!

As many of us have heard before, there are still cultures in the world where wrinkles are valued. They are a sign of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. People in those cultures recognize that the smartest ones there are the ones with the deepest wrinkles!

Not so much here in the United States. Our cultural standards stem from what we see, watch, hear, and read from TV, movies, magazines, etc. For decades the mass media has taught us that aging is something we might want to avoid and if we can't avoid tacking on another birthday, at least look like you're still young! Botox, plastic surgery, face and body creams are preventative and corrective measures to keep us from aging too much on the outside.

It was in this very American society where I grew up. I heard the message of popular culture loud and clear - have perfect skin and a perfect body for as long as possible. When you cannot do that any longer then be prepared to be treated with less respect, not more. I always set out to attain the societal standards I saw displayed by our most prized celebrities, but I succeeded the most with skincare. I can remember at age 12 putting together my elaborate daily bedtime routine that lasted me for years and which included two different face washes, an exfoliator, a mask, and a toner. I also slathered my entire body with creams to make my skin soft, smooth, and lightly fragranced. The end result? Well, I never had terrible break-outs of acne when I was a teenager and most other kids did. I eventually stopped slathering on the full body creams when I was busy dating for marriage (ironic because that is the VERY time I should be starting up something like that!) since my life was very full and extra time was impossible to come by. And how did all the maintenance on my face work out for me two decades later? I'm proud to say that my wrinkles, although visible, were slight and actually elegant. I was proud of them, shockingly.

Then I got married and had a baby who was chronically ill. The wrinkles that were once pleasing turned harsher to match the bags under my eyes from exhaustion and stress due to taking care of my sick daughter alongside my husband. Vanity wasn't a concern to us in those days, obviously. Getting through each night with a baby in pain was.

Finally, I stopped working to stay home and care for my daughter so she could get well and we decided to have another child. And that's when I really learned how to handle the emergence of wrinkles. It was not getting more that made me accept them. It was needing a c-section for my second daughter that did the trick. After having your body carry children, deliver them, and nourish them you can choose to feel differently about your appearance. A c-section dramatically changes the way you think. That procedure saved my life and my daughter's, thank G-d. And I have a not-so-lovely scar to show for it. I don't like the scar, but I think of it as a battle wound. I earned that scar. I suffered for it and the suffering was done for the holy purpose of bringing another precious life into this world. It's like a soldier who fights in a battle and comes out with injuries that show what a courageous act he went through for his country. I didn't risk my life that exact way, but I allowed myself to be changed physically for the c-section and even for pregnancy in the first place. I learned to become as proud of the c-section scar as I did of my formerly beautiful budding wrinkles. I worked for those changes to my body and I will always bear the mark of what it took for me to mother children. How can I regret that?

So I feel similarly about the wrinkles on my face. Although I would like to slow them down tremendously (...maybe erase them a little), those wrinkles show what my husband and I have achieved in the trenches together as parents. And to wish them away would take me back 5+ years to a time when he wasn't in my life yet and I didn't have these girls as my daughters. Would I rather still be that single woman who was searching or am I happy to have the wrinkles, the children, and the best husband in the world? I now embrace my wrinkles just as I embrace the loves of my life!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why on earth I'm making the time to blog!

The first time ever I'd seen a blog was when my friend Darisa (now a Jewish woman named Aliza) told me about hers in 2005. We met each other at K.J. (the Modern Orthodox synagogue) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan while we attended classes together there in the evenings. Darisa and I became instant friends. She was born Catholic and I was born Jewish, yet despite being Jewish my whole life, I was only coming into Judaism at the same time she was. As I read her blog about her daily adventures, I thought that I could never have a blog for myself because my life was not nearly as interesting. Mind you, I was discovering New York City every day as a newcomer and working in the entertainment industry there at the time! In hindsight I can only guess that I found my work to be not such a big deal AND, most of all, I was probably trying to be discreet about what celebrities I was interacting with. To this day nothing makes me as uncomfortable as when someone asks which celebrities I know / met / worked with.

Needless to say, that period of time when Darisa was blogging and I wasn't was probably the most intensely growth-oriented stage of my life. To get back into my head from that time would be priceless now. I was growing as a human being in the most remarkable leaps and bounds as I came into my own religiously. Ten years earlier I'd been an Atheist and self-hating Jew. But I was always a searcher and my junior year in college I learned with conviction that there truly is a G-d. I continued searching for what that meant once I realized it. A long and slow journey brought me to 2005, K.J., and, subsequently, Darisa. After 10 years of exploring Judaism and what Jews do to practice it, I suddenly committed myself to becoming an Orthodox Jewess. No one was more surprised than me!

And it didn't occur to me to blog or document my colorful journey back then. I don't even feel that my journey now is quite as fascinating, but I am definitely still on a journey of a sort. I am still learning about Judaism and what wisdom is hidden and waiting to be discovered. Lazy people don't get to that place, only truth seekers who are willing to investigate and allow themselves to learn! I've encountered my share of intelligent people who doubt the truth of Judaism. They stunt their own growth by refusing to open their minds for a minute to another option besides what they have preconceived. And, G-d forbid, we should never stop growing as people and become complacent and force those around us to take it or leave it. To me that is like driving up a dead-end street and staying there. Another of the many wonderful things my husband and I strongly agree upon is that people always have room for growth, self-improvement, and getting better with age. I'm on that part of the journey now.

My First Blog

Just days short of another birthday I am starting my first blog. And, yes, I am continuously surprised and delighted to learn that every year past 30 actually does get better!

The chosen title of my blog may read "My Kosher Kitchen," but you won't find many recipes here just yet.  Why did I choose my title then?  The answer is that the title shows exactly how far I've come. I did not start out my life in or near a kosher kitchen, nor an Orthodox Jewish home, but as I've traveled, searched, and grown that is exactly where I find myself today and it was a lot of work to attain this kitchen!  I created my very own kosher kitchen and my life is intertwined with it.